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Thursday, July 10, 2008

ENTERTAINMENT SPOTLIGHT

Asian stars united by earthquake disaster


Special to The Japan Times

'When it has to happen, it will happen," declares a bullish Judy Ongg, a Taiwan-born actress, singer and novelist based in Japan. "When you think it has to be done, you have to do it yourself."

Heart Aid's principal performers
Quake crusaders: Heart Aid's principal performers pose for the press (Back, left to right: John Hoon, three piece W-inds, Atari Kousuke. Front: Alan, Judy Ongg, Kosetsu Minami). YUICHI KONISHI PHOTO

Speaking to The Japan Times shortly after a press conference on June 26 announcing the Heart Aid Shisen Charity Event, which takes place July 14 in Tokyo to raise funds for survivors of the recent Sichuan earthquake in China, she is clearly proud to be leading the call for help in Japan. And that call hasn't gone unheeded.

"The first thing I did was pick up the phone and call my best friend Jackie Chan," says Ongg. "And from there it was a chain reaction."

Ongg has had a long and distinguished career in music, film, TV and as an author. A Sophia University graduate, she has won acting awards across Asia and sold 2 million copies of her hit single "Miserarete" in Japan in 1979, establishing herself in the hearts and minds of a generation.

Lining up at the Tokyo International Forum are artists from across Asia: Hong Kong Canto-pop superstar Sandy Lam and singer/actor Aaron Kwok will make rare appearances on these shores; South Korean idol John Hoon and singer-songwriter/actor July will step onstage; and among artists from Japan will be idol trio w-inds and Amami Oshima singer Atari Kousuke. Ongg will, meanwhile, remind the crowd what the fundraising event is all about.

The Great Sichuan Earthquake on May 12 this year measured 8.0 on the Richter scale and killed almost 70,000 people, leaving 4.8 million homeless. It was the worst disaster in China since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which killed 240,000.

"May 12," recalls Ongg. "I can't forget it because that's the day I came back from Taiwan. I saw the news and it was disastrous. I couldn't be there just sitting on the sofa, so I said to myself, I will call my friends and we will hold Heart Aid."

Judy Ongg hopes that her Heart Aid campaign will raise money
Judy Ongg hopes that her Heart Aid campaign will raise money for victims of the Sichuan earthquake of May 12.

It's not the first time Ongg and Heart Aid have pledged their support. Back in 1999, Taiwan suffered a similar fate when the 7.3-magnitude Chichi earthquake left nearly 2,400 dead and destroyed 40,000 homes. Distraught at the scenes in her home country, Ongg called legendary Japanese promoter Jiro Uchino for help. Renowned as the man who brought The Beatles to Japan, he claimed, "We are the people who can make the movement," explains Ongg.

"He named it Heart Aid," she says. "At that time, all my friends stood up; and again this time, the same friends stood up, and it will be Heart Aid."

Jackie Chan, who will coproduce the show and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, has produced similar events in the last few weeks in Hong Kong and Chengdu.

"Since the earthquake in Sichuan, where so much damage was caused, we have felt such distress in our hearts," said Chan, via videolink, at the press conference. "But at the same time we have to be strong, keep our heads strong and our feelings strong to encourage activity and carry this to Sichuan."

While big-name artists calling for charity may not always convince the public at large, it's worth remembering that they too can be affected. Joining Heart Aid in Tokyo will be 20-year-old singer Alan, born to a Tibetan family in Sichuan. Recording in Japan at the time of the disaster, she laments, "When the earthquake happened I quickly called my parents, but all the lines were busy and cut off. When I reached them they were at the top of the mountain; they ran away to higher ground to be safe."

Speaking soft but clearly heartfelt words, Alan is adjusting to the responsibility of standing up for an issue she believes in. "I was recording a new song here for my Chinese album. I stopped my recording after I knew it had happened, and changed the song to a fundraising song."

Jackie Chan, producer of Heart Aid
Jackie Chan, producer of Heart Aid

Two songs emerged, in Japanese ("Shiawase no Kane") and Chinese ("Ai Jiu Shi Shou"), sharing the English translation "The Bell of Happiness," released for download already and with an English-language download service in the works. The money raised will be sent to Sichuan.

"I haven't been back yet," Alan explains with regret. "I tried to go back to the place where all the orphans are now, but there is a lake and it flooded. I had to give up, so now I will go back after the concert."

The so-called "quake lakes" have kept the catastrophe in the news, as 34 blocked river points have formed great water masses, endangering citizens downstream. Some 200,000 people were evacuated from the city of Mianyang alone in anticipation of the collapse of a dam.

Heart Aid itself is not only about raising funds, though. As Ongg explains, awareness of what's going on is just as important.

"The most important thing is everyone is coming from Asia willingly to perform on the same stage," she says. "From that we are raising funds, to go to Sichuan. Even if it's just a piece of bread, it will help.

"When I first heard about (the earthquake), I didn't know it would be this disastrous," she continues. "Watching the TV, I saw it getting worse and worse. The elementary schools were crushed. The children were under piles of concrete. Some had their feet amputated and the children cried, 'Please don't cut my feet, I want to grow up and work and make my parents happy.' But they were saved. Some people, they just had to watch them die. It broke my heart so much, I thought I had to stand up and do something.

"Millions of people have lost their homes," she pleads. "No way of living, no school, no food. The medical situation is horrible; we are afraid of an epidemic. What can we do? Maybe we can help them a little bit."

As well as the event, Ongg has organized a charity auction to raise further funds, which can be found by accessing www.heartaid.com and clicking through to Heart Aid's Yahoo auction.

Alan, a Tibetan native of Sichuan
Alan, a Tibetan native of Sichuan, is among the pop stars helping the Heart Aid cause.

"Please, please buy!" exclaims Ongg. "We are asking all the stars to put out whatever they have with their autographs."

The fundraising won't stop there either, thanks to an idea from Hong Kong actor Jet Li.

"He came up with (the idea of) a charity box," says Ongg, explaining that people are invited to make a "one penny donation." With his organization One Foundation, Li is working together with the Red Cross on a project called Operation Sichuan Relief.

"If you have any coins left in your pocket, it could be small, but when it adds up it can be a big sum," she says. "They will be collected and taken to the Red Cross."

Despite the heaviness of the issue it is in aid of, Ongg promises the event on July 14 will be fun. "We will sing 'Sukiyaki' at the beginning, the Kyu Sakamoto song (a No. 1 in the U.S. in 1963). In Japanese, the lyrics say, 'Let's look up, let our tears stay inside so they do not fall, because if we have hope in our heart, life is not so bad.' So we will all sing along."

Jackie Chan, who has released 11 albums in Hong Kong, will also be ushered on stage, performing his biggest hit song, "Ming Ming Bai Bai Wo De Xin" (My Heart is so Transparent), from 1992.

"We girls will surround him and will all be singing. It's a duet, so we will sing the girl's part," enthuses Ongg, motioning to Alan.

The night promises to be an unforgettable showcase of experienced and fresh talent from across Asia, and the readiness of all the artists to appear is a testament to their dedication. As Chan explains, "Our hope is that we do all that we can do to support those affected and give them our loving hands. We hope that we can repair and rebuild Sichuan, as fast as possible."

Heart Aid Shisen takes place July 14, 6 p.m., at Tokyo International Forum Hall A, Yurakucho (¥7,800, [03] 5436-9600). Guests include Judy Ongg, Jackie Chan, Kosetsu Minami, Sandy Lam, Aaron Kwok, Terumasa Hino, w-inds, Ekin Cheng, John Hoon, Alan, Atari Kousuke, July, Iruka, Togi + Bao, Jaywalk and more. All proceeds go to The Red Cross.


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